Making Her Own Luck

Local writer Deborah Coonts debuts a flashy Vegas mystery series

With short hair and clothes that are casually fashionable, a slight Texas accent and a lot of confidence, first-time author Deborah Coonts does not deny that there are similarities between her and her storybook creation, Lucky O’Toole.

While Coonts’ life carries the messiness of reality (think motherhood and relationship issues, daily routines and hours writing), Lucky’s life falls more into the category of heroic portraiture. The heroine of Coonts’ fiction debut Wanna Get Lucky? (Forge Books, 2010), Lucky is an executive at the newest, coolest mega-resort on the Strip, the Babylon. In addition to the glamorous job, Lucky has a murder to solve, men to juggle, ex-boyfriends to avenge and a mom who owns a Nevada brothel.

Indeed, her protagonist fits the aspirational chick-lit ideal of charmingly flawed perfection: “I made her 6 feet tall, because I really wanted her to stand out, but I did not want her to be drop-dead gorgeous” Coonts says. “But that makes her hard to cast in a movie because everyone in Hollywood is gorgeous. I see her as a mixture of Cameron Diaz and Julia Roberts. She is a little chunky in the first book. But she loses the weight pretty quick.”

Coonts isn’t exactly suffering herself (nor does she have any weight to lose). She spent a recent afternoon giving an interview over lunch at the private clubhouse at the exclusive Spanish Trail Country Club and an evening receiving hundreds of well-wishers at her book party. Mayor Oscar Goodman sent a gift. But while Coonts is having a blast, this sort of activity would be insufferable drudgery to her creation.

One thing you can be sure is that everything will work out for Lucky. And perhaps for Coonts, too. The publisher has already bought the sequel. Coonts has completed the third book in the series and is writing the fourth. But Lucky’s luck does not come from the author’s desire to write more books in the series. As with her larger-than-life character creations, Coonts believes novels should have happy endings, in part, because life often does not and she thinks people turn to fiction for something different than real life. “These are happy books. No one loses their job in the recession. There is romance and picking the right mate, which I haven’t done yet, and so it is always a curiosity to me.”

Coonts notes that people want to be entertained, and she gives the people what they want in her books. It’s not at all a coincidence that entertaining people is also the core mission of the city she calls home as well as the world of Lucky: Las Vegas.

“People come here from all over and they get anything they want. I like that,” Coonts says. And so, the Las Vegas in which Lucky lives—except for the occasional corpse on the Strip—is as glamorous and over-the-top and wonderfully shiny as any Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority advertisement and much better plotted.

As simple as this formula sounds, the process of creating Lucky came to Coonts after years practicing writing and six years of searching for a topic. It was her eventual move to Las Vegas that finally brought it all together. Once Vegas and Lucky merged, she was ready to go at her book.

“It came quickly,” she says. “I spent about a month coming up with my cast of characters in 2006 and wrote the book in six months. I actually had left Vegas. I was in New York getting a master’s in tax law. My marriage was not good, and you don’t just say you are going to support yourself writing novels. You need a real job. I wrote the first chapters in Colorado where I was practicing law.”

After submitting them to a writing group and receiving tremendous feedback, Coonts returned to Vegas in 2007 to finish her book. “I thought about the ideas and characters and how to tell about the different aspects of Las Vegas that I found intriguing. It all fit.”

As with Vegas resorts, Coonts’ books are written with a specific audience in mind. Although TI’s Sirens show is years old, for example, in Lucky’s world there is still a pirate battle at Treasure Island. “I wanted the pirate show because everyone my age or older will know what I am talking about.”

Not an that older version of Vegas is always portrayed. Coonts is pragmatic. A dead body turns up in the tank of the relatively new Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay in her sequel. In all, Coonts is taking literally what Sinatra once sang, “Luck Be a Lady.”

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